While plenty of food, clothing, and basic supplies have poured in, refugees still have a basic need for psychological support, medical care, and general information – a lack of which has led to small groups splitting off from the caravan, where they are often faced with mass abduction and a complete disappearance into the lethal underworld of human trafficking.
We are just trying to fill their needs as best as we can. Our time here is limited but we try to help – if they say they need sweaters, socks, diapers for the babies, or to help build tarps – that is the time that we can best invest.
Sure, Mexico City is big and beautiful and in the U.S., we [Mexicans, Chicanos, Mexican-Americans] always dreamed of coming and knowing our history and our roots, but this is a historical moment that is occurring right before our eyes and we need to show up and answer the call for solidarity.
When we get back home, we hope we can use the connections established to continue assisting and ensuring that their passage is safe and that we can continue helping them if and when they get back to the United States.”
IMA hopes to spread empowerment to the caravan
Members of IMA also devoted their spare time to assisting the caravan in whatever manner they could. The alliance saw it as their duty to not simply hold their meeting, strategize, and cover the political aspect of the migrant struggle, but to extend – in concrete terms – their solidarity to the caravan.
“When we got to the stadium it was clear yes, this was an exodus – an exodus due to policies and a type of global development model that fails to meet the demands and the needs of the people … These people are just trying to figure out a way to survive, and migration is a way to survive,” Osuna said.
Belay had encountered refugee encampments and caravans at other stages of his life, but was surprised by the contrasts he saw in the football stadium – where one could simultaneously witness vast poverty as well as the broad smiles of enthusiastic people who remain strong despite the grim odds they face in their journey to the U.S. Belay explained:
One of the purposes of our visit has been to assess the legal, medical and basic needs of the community … I was really impressed by the strength and hope that the caravan has. They have traveled thousands of miles to protect their families and kids but they are still strong.”
The experience was also really sad for me. I have seen caravans before, but this was new for me because I saw so many displaced people who were both tired and happy, and that really touched me in my heart but these people are very strong, with great spirits. They are very disciplined and that gives me hope.”
For many IMA members, the encounter with the caravan hit close to home and touched on a universally-shared experience faced by those who are forced to leave their homes for the sake of survival.
Such was the case for IMA chairperson Eni Lastari, a domestic worker in Hong Kong who migrated from Indonesia. Lastari told MintPress News that the alliance was able to quickly raise $6,000 in coordination with local grassroots and civil society organizations in order to purchase an impressive array of goods to donate directly to the encampment.
We spoke to several groups of children, women, men, teenagers. We actually tried to ask them why many of them are coming from Honduras. Mothers of five, mothers of three, they left because they cannot come up with the economic needs anymore – they are being taxed so heavily by the gangs, the government gives them no protection, they are worried about the future of their children.
Actually, for the women, the only reason why they left Honduras is because of their children. They think if they cross the border they will have a better life – not for themselves, but for their children – which is a very common story for migrants across the world. There are 260 million migrants [worldwide] and this is the same type of story everyone is saying.
The men are looking for jobs, they have been trying to work but fail – they only get two months, three months, a few weeks and then they are fired – there are no jobs and even if they get a job, the pay is not enough. So many of the young men expressed their intention to look for jobs overseas – some even want to go to Spain, to Canada! They do not know how, the only thing in their mind is that if they can reach the Mexico-U.S. border they can pass through it and find a way to go.
I can see how desperate they are and I feel very disheartened. This is the case that even I experienced – we left our countries simply because of poverty, hunger, no money for education and we are thinking of our children.
Our message to them is that we understand their decision, whatever people say about them – whether it is good or bad – if they believe in their decision, they should pursue it. For us, we will make sure that we will stand by and make sure that no one is going to harm them and we will condemn the U.S. government for preventing them or even harming them just for the sake of their (fight) for survival.”
Systemic change, not charity, is the only way to address the crisis
Mass movement participants assisting the caravan see clear indicators of hope and potential amid the contradictory factors represented by the caravan and its complicated blend of impoverishment and optimism, grief and elation, misery and hope, listlessness and energy.
“People have been holding nightly assemblies. They love their countries, they love their homes, [but] they have no choice but to make this trek through unknown territories in the hopes of finding something better,” Franks said.
“Spending time and witnessing that, we can only do much as outsiders and don’t want to interfere with the basic form of organization the community has established,” he added.
Lastari explained that while providing aid and raising funds is important, it can only be one part of a holistic approach – a tactic that serves the broader strategic goal of liberating people from the global system that propels these exoduses and migrant crises.
We have, in our advocacy and in our campaigns, two approaches: short term and long term. In the short term what they need to address are their urgent needs: housing, livelihood, school, anything that would address their human needs, human rights. IMA will make sure that the governments will respect their basic human rights, including pressuring the United Nations, the I.L.O. to raise up their voice to make sure they will get what they need.
But in the long run, we understand completely that all of us – including Honduras, Latinos, Asia, Africa, Caribbean – we are all victims of how unfair the system today is, because the very rich countries like the U.S., Canada, Germany invest in our countries through the transnational corporations [and are] taking away our resources, plundering our land, killing our people and indigenous leaders, and they are displacing us! And that’s why, generation by generation, what we see is not even development! So if they are selling to us that they are developing the world [and] we tell them: this is a lie. The thousands of people who are joining the caravan are living proof that their so-called ‘development’ doesn’t work. What they are doing is actually harming rather than developing.
So although we know that this is a very sad and bleak era in our time, IMA sees the other side of the coin: there are more people that are aware that they have to fight for their rights, for their land, for their resources, if they want to stay in dignity. And so in that case, people’s mobilizations like the caravan are something that I hope aren’t only an exodus but are more organized and then they will be more united.
But in the long-run what we want to see is system change. There is no other way! They cannot just stay in the United States, someday they have to go back to Honduras. By that time, the system must reform.”
Mass movement organizers insist that it remains important to maintain hope amid the crisis, with the caveat that this hope can only be found in the ongoing project of the people organizing themselves and escalating their resistance to the inhumane and profit-driven system at the root of forced migration. IMA hopes to advance that project through consolidating their alliance among afflicted communities so that immigrants no longer see themselves as helpless victims, but as a powerful force capable of permanently reversing the tide of displacement, trafficking, exploitation and abuse.
“There are a lot of stories of grief, sadness, and tragedy when you look at the situation of migrants, refugees and displaced peoples, but what is positive and delivers hope in the midst of this is resistance and movement-building,” Ellorin explained.
We are living in a time of great sadness but we’re also living in a time of great resistance of peoples and sometimes, the struggle for freedom is the next best thing to being free.”
Top Photo | Jose Pedro Rosales Fernandez, 18, from Progreso, Honduras, holds his four-month-old son Dariel, inside the sports complex where thousands of migrants have been camped out for several days in Mexico City, Nov. 9, 2018. Rebecca Blackwell | AP
Elliott Gabriel is a former staff writer for teleSUR English and a MintPress News contributor based in Quito, Ecuador. He has taken extensive part in advocacy and organizing in the pro-labor, migrant justice and police accountability movements of Southern California and the state’s Central Coast.